After settling into our vacation rental and choosing a beach club to frequent in the mornings, our afternoons were free to explore the area around Torre Lapillo, Salento. Salento is the southernmost region of Puglia, located on the "heel" of the Italian boot. Hot, dry, and largely untouched by international tourism, it's a fantastic area for experiencing authentic local culture and some fantastic white sand beaches. For more about how we ended up spending our vacation in this region, click here.
Torre Lapillo is almost exclusively frequented by Italian tourists during the summer months, and is popular mainly for the long stretch of beautiful white sand beach that leads to a shallow, calm, and clear Ionian sea that is perfect for families. The area is a marine protected area, so there is very little development in terms of large hotel chains. As a result, having a car for exploring the area along the coast is an absolute must.
A word about the rhythm of life in this region is a must before I begin- the afternoon siesta is taken quite seriously here due to the heat, and although the beach clubs stay open, most everything else shuts down sometime between 1pm and 5pm, then reopens, often staying open fairly late. This knowledge was indispensable when planning our days, because activities such as grocery shopping were impossible during the afternoons, but sightseeing was actually simpler because there weren't any crowds. Taking photos of cathedral facades without anyone standing in front? Not a problem at 2pm!
We started our week exploring Torre Lapillo, which meant taking a ride to the far curve of the bay where the tower stands. All along the coast it's possible to view and even visit the old towers that served as protection against invaders years ago. If the guard saw an incoming fleet, they would light the flame at the top of the tower to warn the next tower down the coast, and that guard would light his light, and so on. A simple but effective early warning system! The tower on the edge of Torre Lapillo can be climbed certain times of day, and the view is spectacular, particularly at sunset.
Directly across from the tower are a few small restaurants and the small inlet where the locals tie up their boats. Although there was a modern restaurant with table soccer and a few other games right there, we opted for the small seafood place called Mare Fritto. Located almost directly on the water, it's an unpretentious seafood restaurant that gets quite busy at lunch and in the evenings after 8pm. Prices were quite reasonable, and they were able to make a wonderful gluten free seafood risotto for my son. plus, the views are incredible.
A bit north of Torre Lapillo lies the almost untouched area of Punta Prosciutto. We had considered staying there originally, but since it is far removed from any town, we decided against it. There are a few camping villages and some small rental apartments available nearby, but there isn't much else in terms of amenities within walking distance. So why visit? The beach. Punta Prosciutto is the kind of beach that belongs to private beach clubs in other countries, but here it's free. Lovely white sand, dunes that block the wind, and a sea that changes colour as the daylight fades. Certainly worth spending some time relaxing by the water.
To the south of Torre Lapillo lies Porto Cesareo, a larger town with a proper marina and a bit of a larger city center. We parked at the marina and explored the waterfront walkway. Boat trips leave from the marina at all hours of the day, and offer itineraries that range from fishing to lagoons to simple sightseeing, and prices were quite reasonable. We let the kids burn off some energy at the park since the small fair was closed for the afternoon. Just a few minutes walk in the opposite direction leads into the city, with shops, restaurants, and nightlife. There are fancier restaurants than in Torre Lapillo, as well as some bigger hotels, though no giant chains that we saw. Porto Cesareo also has a public beach located smack on the edge of the town center, making it easily accessible and also a place where people go to see and be seen.
We were completely charmed by the area surrounding Torre Lapillo, and as the week wore on we ventured out a bit farther away, including south to Gallipoli and a daytrip to the UNESCO world heritage town of Alberobello. But those are stories for another day!